Posts in:January, 2021

Can I Get Disability Benefits If My Impairments Are Psychiatric Only?

Posted January 29, 2021 by Premier Disability Services, LLC®

The answer is, it depends. While you can collect disability for both physical and mental medical conditions, it can be harder to collect disability for a mental illness than for a physical illness. Why? Part of the answer to this lies in the nature of mental illness itself. Symptoms of mental illness are not easily evaluated, and the severity of a condition may therefore be hard to measure objectively. About a quarter of applicants for Social Security disability list mental illnesses or disorders as their primary impairment.

Disability claims examiners who work for Social Security are not licensed psychiatrists, and do not always understand the full scope of the limitations imposed by certain mental illnesses. For instance, some disability examiners do not recognize the cyclical nature of mental illnesses, such as bipolar disorder (manic depression), and may assume a patient is cured because he or she does not currently display certain symptoms. But in reality, those symptoms may have just dissipated for the moment and could return in the near future.

In addition, some disability examiners may be biased against disability claims for mental illness. There are those who believe that some disability applicants who claim mental illness are lazy or malingering (faking their illness for benefits). This is unsettling since there are so many individuals who suffer from mental illness worldwide, but it is partially due to the fact that the criteria for evaluating most mental disorders is subjective. There are very few tests to evaluate the severity of an individual’s mental condition. Only mental conditions such as intellectual disorder (low IQ), memory impairments, or other neurocognitive disorders can be tested objectively (using IQ and memory impairment testing).

In attempting to evaluate a condition, a disability examiner will first refer to Social Security’s official listing of impairments, often referred to as the blue book. The disability listings contain medical conditions that Social Security recognizes as inherently disabling; in other words, Social Security accepts that anyone suffering from a listed condition would be unable to work (earning an amount equivalent to substantial gainful activity).

If your condition isn’t as severe as the listing requires but you have been diagnosed with a chronic mental condition that is preventing you from working, you may still be eligible for disability benefits. If your mental RFC (residual functional capacity) shows you have intellectual, social, or functional limitations that affect your productivity or your ability to sustain full-time work, you may be eligible for a medical-vocational allowance, depending on your mental limitations, age, education level, and job skills.

For psychiatric illnesses that may improve with treatment, such as anxiety, depression, and schizophrenia, the most important things that you can do to improve your chances of getting approved are to see a doctor regularly (preferably a psychiatrist or psychologist), to let your doctor know how your condition affects you on a daily basis, and to take the medicine that the doctor prescribes to you.

Contact our office today if you or anyone you know would like to learn more about qualifying for Social Security Disability benefits.

SSA’s Psychiatric listings:

By: Joyce Trudeau of Premier Disability Services, LLC®

Social Security Disability Benefits for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Posted January 22, 2021 by Premier Disability Services, LLC®

Carpal tunnel syndrome is a condition in which the median nerve becomes compressed in or around the wrist area. This nerve runs from the forearm to the middle of the hand. Carpal tunnel syndrome can have symptoms that range from tingling, numbness, and pain in the wrist area as well as the fingers and thumb. In advanced cases, additional symptoms include difficulty gripping objects, pain all the way to the elbow, and deterioration of the muscle under the thumb.

Whether you qualify for Social Security Disability Benefits for your carpal tunnel system depends on several factors. To determine whether you meet their definition of being disabled, the Social Security Administration (SSA) relies on a variety of factors, including the severity of your symptoms, the effectiveness of treatment options, the strength of your medical evidence, your age, your education level and the type of work you have done. To be approved, your carpal tunnel syndrome must be medically determinable and supported with strong medical evidence. Medical evidence can include X-rays, electromyography tests, and nerve conduction studies.

The SSA employs a 5-step sequential evaluation process to determine if you qualify for disability benefits under the SSDI and/or SSI programs. At each phase of a disability claim, there is an adjudicator, or decision-maker. At the Initial Application and Reconsideration phases, the decision-maker is a DDS Examiner who works in consultation with a DDS Physician. At the Hearing phase, the decision-maker is the Administrative Law Judge who often consults with a Vocational and/or Medical Expert. These adjudicators consider both medical and non-medical evidence to determine if there is any work that you can do based on your physical and/or mental limitations.

Social Security disability claims based on carpal tunnel syndrome are never easy to get approved, but they can be approved if the claim is developed properly. If you or someone you know is unable to work due to carpal tunnel syndrome, or any other medical condition, please contact us for a free evaluation of your case!

By: Joyce Trudeau of Premier Disability Services, LLC®

What is Substantial Gainful Activity?

Posted January 15, 2021 by Premier Disability Services, LLC®

In evaluating whether you are disabled, the Social Security Administration (SSA) will first look to whether you are currently working. If you are working part-time and not earning much money, you won’t automatically be denied disability benefits, but doing a substantial amount of work (such as working full-time) guarantees that you’ll be denied benefits. Here’s why.

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As part of its definition of disability, the SSA requires that a disability claimant (applicant) be unable to perform what it calls substantial gainful activity (SGA).

Substantial gainful activity is generally work that brings in over a certain dollar amount per month. In 2021, that amount is $1,310 for non-blind disabled SSDI or SSI applicants, and $2,190 for blind SSDI applicants (the SGA limit doesn’t apply to blind SSI applicants). If you are making more than that amount per month, the SSA presumes that you must not be disabled (in their words, that you “are able to engage in competitive employment”). In deciding whether you are doing SGA, Social Security does not count any income you obtain from non-work sources, such as interest, investments, or gifts.

Low earnings, however, don’t necessarily establish that you’re unable to work. The SSA will consider the circumstances under which you performed work. For example, where a disability applicant had worked as a substitute bus driver, the court found that he was doing SGA because his low earnings did not indicate that he was unable to work, and his income was less than it could be because of the on-call nature of the job. The SSA can even consider volunteer activities and criminal activities as SGA if they represent substantial work for which someone would ordinarily be paid (but the agency will not consider hobbies or school attendance to be SGA).

Similarly, high earnings don’t necessarily mean the disability claimant was doing SGA, if he or she was working under special conditions. Claimants can argue that their income would have been lower but for the fact that the claimant:

  • required special assistance from other employees in performing the work
  • was allowed to work irregular hours or take frequent rest breaks
  • was provided with special equipment or assigned work especially suited to his or her impairment
  • was able to work only because of specially arranged circumstances (for example, other people helped the claimant get to and from work)
  • was permitted to work at a lower standard of productivity or efficiency than other employees, and/or
  • was given the opportunity to work despite his or her impairment because of a family relationship, past association with the employer, or the employer’s concern for the claimant’s welfare.

Individuals who work and earn gross monthly income exceeding the SGA threshold are not considered disabled and are ineligible to receive benefits, unless they were working under one of special circumstances discussed above. Generally, if you are making over $1,310 when you apply, your claim will be denied almost immediately, without a medical review (your medical records will not even be requested or evaluated because you will be considered ineligible for benefits), because how much you are earning is one of the first things the SSA looks at.

If, however, it is determined that your work activity does not amount to substantial gainful activity, you will have passed the first step of the SSA’s five-step evaluation process and your medical eligibility will be considered at the next step of the process.

Contact our office today if you or anyone you know would like to learn more about qualifying for Social Security Disability benefits.

By: Joyce Trudeau of Premier Disability Services, LLC®